SEVEN SEAS VOYAGER PHOTO ESSAY

Back in October 2013, Regent Seven Seas’ ultra luxury Seven Seas Voyager went into dry dock in Marseilles, France, for a major cosmetic overhaul that involved the complete refurbishing of some public rooms, a complete replacement of the carpets in all public areas, and the replacement of every bit of teak decking on the ship, from the upper decks to every single one of some three hundred and fifty terrace suites.

The result was a lavishly refurbished and energised paragon; one I got to sample literally straight out of the shipyards, on a short run from Rome to Livorno. These pictures form my visual impressions of a ship that has long been an old favourite of mine.

Main entrance lobby on Voyager

Main entrance lobby on Voyager

New pool deck. looking aft

New pool deck. looking aft

Voyager interior shot

Voyager interior shot

Looking down from the staircase

Looking down from the staircase

Voyager; space and grace in perfect symmetry

Voyager; space and grace in perfect symmetry

Sumptuous new furnishings are evreywhere

Sumptuous new furnishings are everywhere

The staircases form an elegant focal point

The staircases form an elegant focal point

The craftsmanship everywhere is outstanding

The craftsmanship everywhere is outstanding

Small, intimate seating areas flank the passageways

Intimate seating areas flank passageways

The aft Panorama Lounge

The aft Panorama Lounge

Panorama Lounge aft terrace

Panorama Lounge aft terrace

Pool and hot tubs

Pool and hot tubs

Funnel, looking aft on port side

Funnel, looking aft on port side

Afternoon snacks?

Afternoon snacks?

One of those newly refurbished balconies

One of those newly refurbished balconies

Another main staircase angle

Another main staircase angle

Looking up from lobby to the top level

Looking up from lobby to the top level

Sweet treats are everywhere on Voyager

Sweet treats are everywhere on Voyager

OCEANIA OFFERS SERIES OF ALL INCLUSIVE 2014 SAILINGS

Oceania; serving up slices of the world in sumptuous style

Oceania; serving up slices of the world in sumptuous style

For the first time since it’s inception in 2003, award winning Oceania Cruises is offering a series of nine, all inclusive cruises covering a series of sailings over the remainder of 2014.

A number of the sailings even feature upgrades to business class flights. Overall, it adds considerable value to a product that is already hugely attractive in its own right. With five deluxe, beautifully styled ships accommodating between 684 guests (Regatta, Insignia and Nautica) to the 66,000 ton, 1,250 guest sisters, Marina and Riviera, the line has long had an enviable reputation for delivering a highly styled, personalised product that emphasises excellent food and exceptional service as a core mantra.

http://www.cruise.co.uk is showcasing these itineraries. Business class air is offered on the following sailings;

Marina August 12th; Twelve night Northern Europe itinerary from the UK to Copenhagen.

Marina October 4th; Seven night Rome to Barcelona cruise.

Marina October 11th: Ten night Barcelona to Venice cruise.

Riviera November 8th; Seven night Monte Carlo to Barcelona cruise.

 

All four of these sailings also include the all inclusive drinks package in addition to the business class flight upgrades.

The other five all inclusive itineraries are as follows;

 

Marina September 14th: Ten nights from Barcelona to Lisbon cruise.

Regatta September 28th; Twelve nights Montreal to New York cruise.

Riviera October 22nd; Seven night Istanbul to Athens cruise.

Nautica November 2nd; Twenty nights Istanbul to Dubai cruise.

Riviera November 15th. Fourteen night Barcelona to Miami cruise.

 

See vast, brooding Vesuvius with Oceania

See vast, brooding Vesuvius with Oceania

Traditionally, Oceania Cruises has been seen and understood to be a kind of ‘deluxe lite’ product because it has not fully embraced the all inclusive concept. These nine sailings could be a step in that direction; it is obvious that the line is adding value to an already attractive package, rather than indulging in discounting per se.

Could an all inclusive product be the future of Oceania? Well, both Regent Seven Seas (in it’s previous guise as Radisson Seven Seas) and Crystal Cruises eventually went all inclusive, allowing them to compete directly with the likes of Silversea and Seabourn.

While the line does not claim to be in this bracket- the inside cabins on the first three smaller ships would make this a no go- Oceania has defined its own path, and continues to delight travellers old and new with the fine style of their ships, and what is claimed by many to be the finest cuisine afloat of any line.

On that basis alone, the added value built in here enhances these already attractive ships and itineraries by no small amount. Definitely worthy of your consideration.

 

THOMSON CRUISES RENEWS THREE YEAR CONTRACT WITH LOUIS CRUISES

Thomson cruises; promising platinum

Thomson cruises; promising platinum

The Cyprus Mail newspaper is reporting today that Thomson Cruises has inked a second, three year charter renewal of two ships with the Cyprus based Louis Cruises.

According to a source in Limassol, Thomson has renewed charters of the 1983 built Thomson Spirit and the 1992 built Thomson Majesty through until November of 2017. The two vessels form part of the five ship Thomson UK operation.

The other ships- Thomson Celebration (the twin sister of Spirit), Thomson Dream and the Island Escape, are owned outright by the company.

The relationship between Thomson and Louis goes back to as far as 1996, when Thomson began chartering ships from the Cypriot operator in a bid to compete with the new, highly successful budget operation of its major rival, Airtours.

 By one of those quirky accidents of fate, the biggest of the Airtours ships now sails for Louis as the Louis Olympia, and was even chartered out to Thomson itself for several successful seasons.

This is a good deal for both lines; Louis has traditionally chartered out several of its vessels to various operators in both the UK and France. Thomson Majesty was originally built as the Royal Majesty for Majesty Cruise Lines in 1992, with Liza Minnelli acting as godmother.

She was for many years a staple of the summertime Boston to Bermuda run, a role she continued after her purchase and lengthening by Norwegian Cruise Line in 1999. She went to Louis in 2009, and has been under charter to Thomson since 2012.

The Thomson Spirit began life as the Nieuw Amsterdam for Holland America in 1983, coming to Louis Cruises after a short, ill fated attempt to revive US flagged cruising out of Hawaii.

  Both ships were recently upgraded with the addition of balconies to the higher priced cabins and suites on board. Marketed to the Thomson UK market and served by flights coming in from several UK airports, both ships sail these days on predominantly seven night, destination intensive itineraries.

With on board food and entertainment tailored to suit their British clientele, the Thomson ships have been very successful. Though the entertainment programme and cruise staff are supplied by Thomson, the ships are still owned, staffed and provisioned by Louis Cruises. 

Typically, both ships spend spring, summer and autumn in the Eastern Mediterranean (Majesty) and the Baltic (Spirit) and, while Thomson Spirit usually spends the winter season on the Red Sea, the Thomson Majesty will be running Canary Island cruises this coming winter.

CRYSTAL CRUISES TO RETURN TO ALASKA IN 2016

Upper level of Crystal Lobby

Upper level of Crystal Lobby

One of the big surprises of the recently published 2016 Crystal Cruises itineraries is a very welcome return to a short season of Alaska cruises, offered for the first time on the line’s flagship, the six star, 70,000 ton Crystal Serenity.

The ship will operate four, seven day sailings in June and July of 2016, on back to back itineraries between the ports of Anchorage and Vancouver, followed by a pair of ten night, round trip sailings from Vancouver, and closed by a final, ten night repositioning voyage to Anchorage, arriving there on August 16th.

Interestingly, there are no cruises pencilled in at all for the ship between then, and a departure from New York listed on September 17th. Details for three cruises- nos. 6319,6320 and 6321- are not on the current website listings.

Alaska cruises were once a mainstay of the Crystal summertime schedules, especially when the line was a three ship operation. Back then, the now moved on Crystal Harmony used to operate on a number of twelve night, round trip cruises from San Francisco; a role picked up periodically through the years by her younger sibling, the recently refurbished Crystal Symphony.

Two things stand out about these new cruises;  firstly, the fact that Crystal Serenity is spending an entire season away from Europe, where the hugely lauded ship always hitherto spent summers either in the Baltic or the Mediterranean.

Second is the fact that the ship is operating on short, back to back seven night itineraries- four of them in all- for the first time since her debut in 2003.

Ports of call visited on these voyages include Sitka, Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, as well as a day spent cruising both the Hubbard Glacier and the Inside Passage.

These cruises are beautifully timed to showcase the awesome natural splendour of Alaska at its absolute summertime best; with twenty four hour daylight in these latitudes in June, the Crystal Serenity offers up the stunning, majestic wildlife, flora and scenery of this singular state in surroundings of casual, spectacular elegance and indulgent luxury.

Also new for Crystal Serenity in 2016 is a six day, west coast repositioning trip from San Francisco to Vancouver. Just prior to that, the award winning ship makes a fabulous, sixteen night round trip from San Francisco out to the islands of Hawaii on May 28th.

A real highlight of this trip is an overnight stay in Oahu itself. But for many Crystal veterans, the real pleasure will lie in the ability to savour no less than nine sea days on board one of the most fabulous, all inclusive luxury vessels in the world.

CARNIVAL’S NEW SINGLE SAVER FARES

This now comes cheaper, courtesy of Carnival

This now comes cheaper, courtesy of Carnival

In a move that is sure to make the opposition sit up and take notice, Carnival Cruise Lines has dropped single passengers upplements for a host of Bahamas and Caribbean sailings over the course of 2014.

The sailings cover a range of ports, itineraries and durations. Galveston, Miami, New York and Port Canveral are just some of the principal departure points for the programme of discounted voyages, ranging from three to eight days in all.

Typical prices include an eight night, Caribbean cruise on Carnival Freedom, in a 225 square foot ocean view stateroom from just £419. Shorter breaks include a three night Bahamas jaunt aboard the Carnival Sensation, with an inside room available for just £139.

Fares do not simply cover the older ships, either; they are even available for some departures on the current Carnival flagship, the 130, ooo ton Carnival Breeze, as well as the seasonally New York based Carnival Splendor.

The axing of these single supplements makes the Carnival product a very attractive buy for single passengers; the drop in price goes a long way toward offsetting the negative effects of constantly increasing air passenger duty on transatlantic flights as well.

Carnival has never traditionally built single cabins into its ships, so these fares are an obvious, if belated response to the success of single cabins offered aboard the ships of rivals Norwegian and, to a lesser extent, Royal Caribbean. However, even the standard inside cabins on Carnival ships come in at around 185 square feet- roomier than on most of their rivals.

Carnival Breeze atrium lobby

Carnival Breeze atrium lobby

With more of its ships remaining year round in the Caribbean and Bahamas trade than any of its competitors, Carnival offers far more capacity and diversity than any other line. As well as the ports cited above, the line also offers sailings from Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Jacksonville, Charleston, Mobile and New Orleans. 

On the west coast, Carnival offers short sailings to Mexico from both Los Angeles and Long Beach; it is also slated to resume sailings to the Mexican Riviera in November, after an absence of several years.

There’s no doubt in my mind that these new, attractively priced fares will have other lines looking to their laurels. Within the Carnival family of companies, it might lead to something similar happening and both Holland America and Princess Cruises.

All of this is a very welcome development for the solo traveller, and not before time, either. For details of all the Carnival sailings, you can check out the UK website; http://www.carnival.co.uk

 

SILVERSEA CARIBBEAN SINGLE SAVERS FOR WINTER.

See the real beauty of the Caribbean on Silversea

See the real beauty of the Caribbean on Silversea

For indulgent single travellers looking for some luxury winter sun cruises, Silversea has just announced a whole conga line of delicious winter sizzlers, each with a single occupancy supplement of just ten per cent.

There are nine sailings in all, ranging from the end of October through to mid December, each one being from seven to ten days in duration. Voyages are featured on three of the line’s ultra luxury vessels- Silver Cloud, Silver Whisper and Silver Spirit.

While some of these are one way trips between San Juan and Barbados, no less than five are complete, round trip sailings from Fort Lauderdale, a great place in itself for a few days’ pre or post cruise relaxation.

With all outside suite accommodation, an all inclusive product on board, and superlative cuisine and service offered up in an atmosphere of complete, unhurried calm, each of the three ships carries only a few hundred guests. And, with a staff ratio of almost one to one, you can safely anticipate a superb adventure on board any of these cruises.

Lead in fares (cruise only) begin at £1,705 for a seven night sailing on Silver Whisper, between Bridgetown, Barbados and Fort Lauderdale, sailing on December 12th. Round trip sailings from Fort Lauderdale include a seven night sailing on the recently refurbished Silver Cloud from £1,810 single occupancy, again cruise only.

October through December is an ideal time to visit the Caribbean in terms of weather. Although the islands will often be busy with the glut of mega ships also sailing in these waters, it is also worth remembering that the Silversea ships are small and nimble enough to access the more petite, intimate harbours that their bigger siblings have to bypass. And, with numbers limited to hundreds rather than hordes close to five thousand in some cases, there is never any waiting about to get on or off the ships.

Enjoy a Silversea champagne sunset

Enjoy a Silversea champagne sunset

The advantages to this cannot be overstated if you want to maximise your quality ‘me time’ on the islands. Most of these voyages also include at least one sea day- more in the case of the Fort Lauderdale round trip sailings- that give you more than ample time to top up your tan, perfect your sunset martini drinking routine, or just to lose yourself in a good book or two.

While a Silversea cruise is a truly special experience anywhere in the world, there is something that is quite magical and life affirming in taking one of these beautiful ships around the Caribbean. 

Food for thought, maybe?

THE BIG EASY; TRYING TO WOO NEW CRUISE BUSINESS

Holland America is one of the lines being courted by the port of New Orleans

Holland America is one of the lines being courted by the port of New Orleans

In a move to bolster its cruise business, the city of New Orleans has apparently been in talks with a number of mainstream cruise lines that have not hitherto home ported a ship there. Names in the frame include Celebrity, Disney, Holland America, MSC, and even Princess Cruises.

The move comes hard on the heels of a decision by Royal Caribbean International not to base a ship in the famed Louisiana port any time through 2015-16. Current regular New Orleans staple, Serenade Of The Seas is being redeployed in April of 2015, possibly out of Hong Kong.

That would leave the port with a brace of year round,  Carnival ships in residence; the Fantasy class Carnival Elation, which operates short, four and five night cruises to the highlights of the Yucatan, and the far larger, first of class Carnival Dream, which offers seven night sailings to such western Caribbean destinations as Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Ocho Rios, Jamaica.

In addition, Norwegian will send the 92,000 ton Norwegian Dawn round to New Orleans in November 2014. The ship will make some twenty one, seven night western Caribbean cruises through to April, 2015, when she relocates to Boston for her series of summer cruises to Bermuda.

While ideal as a cruise port for passengers on the American continent, New Orleans presents something of a logistical hurdle for UK and European fly cruise passengers, as there are no direct, point to point flights between the UK and New Orleans. On my last couple of cruises out of the city, I used scheduled services that necessitated flight changes in Atlanta and Washington DC, respectively.

The Louisiana port is also some way inland, a sixty mile sail to and from the Gulf Of Mexico. In the past, thick fog has delayed the passage of different ships along this waterway on several occasions; causing delays and sometimes even shortened sailings.

Still, it is to be hoped that the gap left by Royal Caribbean will indeed be filled. With Disney Cruise Line currently only fielding a four ship fleet, it seems more likely to me that any potential new ‘Big Easy’ resident will come from the fleets of the far larger Princess or Holland America stables.

This seems more likely, as the focus of both Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises seems to be on Asia.  As for MSC, that line will soon be withdrawing its only dedicated, USA based year round ship- MSC Divina- back to Europe next spring. So a new arrival in New Orleans would seem very unlikely.

As always- stay tuned.

QE2 LATEST, JUNE 4TH 2014 (UPDATED JUNE 6TH)

Still stalled and shackled

Still stalled and shackled

The shabby, demeaning charade that is the Oceanic Group management of the QE2 continues to drag on and on and on. This is the situation as of today, June 4th, from information supplied by a source on board the shackled ocean liner.

Information supplied to Louis De Sousa allows us to see events on board as they are, rather than as others would no doubt like us to. The situation of the crew on board QE2 is nothing less than desperate.

You will recall that they went on strike as of May 15th in protest at two months’ unpaid wages, and the non issue of promised air tickets home for twenty of the mainly Ukrainian crew, right at the time when events in the Ukraine itself must have exacerbated their distress to intolerable levels. At that time, a crew of forty-eight- five Burmese cooks and cleaners, and forty- three Ukrainian technical and engineering staff- were still on board the QE2 in Dubai. 

Without money or means of leaving, these men were, essentially, hostages.

When the news broke, the ivory tower dwellers in Dubai got their cashmere knickers in something of a knot, to put it mildly. A day or so after the story broke on the internet, the BBC came lumbering into the fray, and the shocking story gained fresh momentum. Wounded in the one place that really matters to them- their collective egos- the nonplussed paladins of Oceanic Group burbled out a series of promises, designed to lance the story at one go. To boot;

Wages would be paid for the months of April and May.

* Seven of the crew would be flown home ‘within days’.

* The other thirteen crew members scheduled to leave the QE2 for home would be issued with flight tickets ‘soon’…

And, after a few days, Oceanic Group did, indeed, pay wages owed for the month of April. At the same time, five crew members were flown home, leaving a remaining skeleton staff of forty-three on board the QE2.

As a result of these moves, the crew formally called off the strike, and went back to work. That was then…..

Now- in June- the situation on board is as follows;

Wages for May have still not been paid, despite Oceanic Group’s promises. and wages for June are now also in default. The crew are, once again, two months in arrears.

* Two men have still not had their flight tickets issued, despite promises that this would be done. 

* The other thirteen, promised their flight tickets ‘soon’, have still had no definite date for their onward travel.

In other words, Oceanic Group has delivered just over half of what it promised. Do they honestly think that this is in any way acceptable?

The Queens Room, QE2

The Queens Room, QE2

This kind of mendacious, half hearted wheeling and dealing simply damages the corporate image of Oceanic Group in the eyes of the international community. In time, it must have an adverse effect on how people perceive them as trustworthy people to do business with.

I could live with that, as it stands. But when it still leaves forty-three men stranded in a foreign port, uncertain and unpaid, understandably worried about the events still engulfing their own countries, and having their strings jerked at random by a shabby cabal of filthy rich black holes of morality, then it becomes a different matter.

If there are any updates, I’ll post them as soon as they become available.

JUNE 6TH UPDATE FROM ON BOARD QE2

Word has come through from on board the QE2 that some eighteen of the remaining forty-three crew still on board will sign off and leave the ship on June 10th (next Tuesday) and will be fully paid when they do so. The remaining twenty-five will remain on board. These will only be paid up until April. There is no word on any replacements arriving for those slated to leave the liner.

Among the twenty leaving the ship are both the Captain and the Chief Engineer, both of whom will, apparently, be replaced. The other eighteen supposedly leaving the QE2 have no replacements lined up. 

That will leave a skeleton staff of just twenty five men in total on board the moribund vessel.

This, again, is in direct contravention of yet another ‘promise’ that all crew would be paid up to May. And, with the wages for June also overdue, the remaining staff will, once again, be two months in default.

I wonder exactly how the posturing, pretentious buffoons of Oceanic Group expect these men- quite literally hostages to fortune- to take this latest kick in the teeth?

What it does go to show, yet again, is that the word of these shabby egotists in Dubai has as much worth as Monopoly money. Shocking and disgusting treatment of helpless men.

TITANIC AND POMPEII; A TALE OF TWO DOOMED TOWNS

The silent streets of Pompeii.

The silent streets of Pompeii.

I think it was John Maxtone Graham who first described the sinking of the Titanic as being akin to the last night of a small town. As with so much of Maxtone Graham’s work, it was a phrase that stayed with me.

And lately, I have come to realise that the assertion was truer than first apparent. For the disaster was, indeed, akin to the last night of a small town.

That town, specifically, being Pompeii.

Consider a string of coincidences that link the two almost as tightly as if they had somehow been threaded together.

Both Titanic and Pompeii catered to a relative few in extreme, pampered luxury. The Roman coastal city was a kind of First Century Las Vegas; a resort built for the pleasure, ease and indulgence of the ruling classes. Almost awash with wine, wallowing in orgies and a surfeit of elaborate entertainments, they depended for their subsistence on both a compliant middle class and a functioning underclass of servants and slaves to maintain their gilded abodes.

As for Titanic, she was the same, at least in First Class. Not for nothing did Joseph Conrad describe her as a ‘Floating Ritz’. The term, intended to be derisory, came to sum up all that doomed, gilded magnificence quite beautifully. Stokers worked back breaking, four hour shifts, ingesting vast amounts of coal dust even as the Astors, the Wideners and the Duff Gordons feasted on caviar and quaffed perfectly chilled champagne just a few floors above.

Mount Vesuvius at dawn

Mount Vesuvius at dawn

Both Titanic and Pompeii went about their respective businesses in blithe disregard of adjacent, potentially lethal natural hazards. In the case of the inhabitants of Pompeii, they played, whored and partied in the very shadow of the looming, smouldering menace of Mount Vesuvius.  Aboard  the westbound Titanic, one ice warning after another was shrugged off with almost breathtaking indifference, as First Class struggled gainfully through a daily marathon of swimming, taking the air and wading through a nightly ten course dinner.

Town and ocean liner alike exuded an air of huge, gilded permanence that seemed to overpower the more sensible faculties of even the most savvy of souls. An air of faux invincibility permeated both the streets of Pompeii, and the hushed, First Class corridors of the Titanic like some kind of awful sleeping sickness. And when disaster came to both, there were some surprisingly similar reactions.

Nature took out these twin monuments to human vanity with almost effortless ease. Fire in the case of Pompeii; ice in that of Titanic. The black, slowly reddening slopes of Vesuvius found an awful counterpoint centuries later, in the shape of the black, water sodden iceberg; the unyielding salt water assassin that slashed, punched and gouged open around a third of the hull of the Titanic. 

Reaction to imminent doom in the case of both ran the gamut; from disbelief to total denial. From the streets of Pompeii, the clouds of slowly rising, noxious ash issuing from Vesuvius seemed miles and miles away, as indeed they were at first. Aboard Titanic,  few people at first could be coaxed into the lifeboats to drop into the ocean, so far below. Yet both ash cloud and icy ocean encroached on their respective prey with an awful, unstoppable certainty. Within the confines of both, fear and anxiety rose like a tidal wave.

Titanic; Pompeii on sea?

Titanic; Pompeii on sea?

For the terrified people flooding the streets of Pompeii, the sea offered the only direct avenue of escape, just as it did to the increasingly worried throng that milled nervously around the sloping decks of the Titanic. And, ultimately, the sea would deny salvation to the great majority on both occasions.

In the case of Pompeii, a tsunami triggered at the same time as the eruption of Vesuvius negated any hopes of a safe evacuation for even a few. As it happened, there were pitifully few boats available, in any event.

Aboard the Titanic, a similarly pathetic lack of lifeboats meant that most of her terrified throng would ultimately be upended into a freezing sea. While there were lifebelts for all, the cold killed most within minutes. Some expired without even getting their heads wet.

The destruction of both Pompeii and Titanic echoed down through time as salutary lessons against placing too much faith in perceived human ingenuity. And, eventually, the rediscovery of each would produce a tidal wave of awed, retrospective musings. This piece is probably just the latest example.

Today, the stunted Doric columns of Pompeii glint eerily in the mid day, Neapolitan sun in what looks- and feels- like a vast, sixty six hectare boom town that died screaming. Two and a half miles down in the dark fastness of the Atlantic, the shattered corpse of Titanic sprawls across the ocean floor like the remnants of a wrecked skyscraper.

The booms of her cranes are folded across the forecastle like the crossed arms of  a deceased pharaoh, frozen in space and time, just like the ruts made by hundreds of chariot wheels that once clattered through the streets of Pompeii. The giant, eight ton port and starboard anchors  hulk in their recesses like moss covered tombstones in a vast underwater cemetery. A torn, jumbled, totally humbled cathedral of the dead.

Lowering lifeboats and rising panic

Lowering lifeboats and rising panic

Pompeii. Titanic. Separated by centuries, and joined by violent, natural death. Deaths so implausible and overwhelming that it hid each from view for years, while at the same time gestating their imperishable legends. For the denizens of both, everything possible was done for their comfort, ease, and luxury, and almost nothing whatsoever for their safety. That is their true, mutually appalling legacy.

Today, we know what both looked like at the height of their glory. Their obvious, total ruin is there for all of us to see as well once more. If progress is, indeed, measured in years, what are we to make of these twin follies of once gilded grandeur today?

SECOND CUBA CRUISE SEASON FOR LOUIS CRISTAL

The Louis Cristal docked at Patmos

The Louis Cristal docked at Patmos

After the success of the 2013/14 winter season, Cuba Cruises and Louis Cruises will once again co-manage the popular, 24,000 ton Louis Cristal on a programme of seven night, Caribbean cruises, centered mainly on ports in and around Cuba itself.

The joint Greek-Canadian venture is on sale in both Canada and Europe, and offers the possibility of embarkation in either Havana or Montego Bay, Jamaica. Ports of call visited on the week long circuits include Havana, Holguin, Santiago de Cuba, Cienfuegos, Punta Frances,  and Montego Bay. The first sailing is on December 22nd, the last on March 30th, 2015.

The fifteen cruises all feature Monday departures from Havana. For Canadian passengers, the Calgary based Cuba Cruises is arranging charter flights. While no such arrangements exist for European passengers, Air France operates daily flights between Paris and Havana.

At present, the four star Louis Cristal is operating a seven night, Greek Island schedule from both Piraeus (Athens) and Istanbul. I’ll be back aboard her at the end of September, and an updated blog will be on here soon afterwards. But here’s some of what you can expect to find on board;

Louis Cristal has a central swimming pool, covered by a sliding glass roof with plenty of sun bathing space. At the stern, several attractive, tiered decks include an outdoor buffet venue, and a hot tub overlooking the ship’s wake.

Lido deck, Louis Cristal

Lido deck, Louis Cristal

There are two main restaurants, a casino, a forward facing show lounge, several bars and lounges, and a very attractive, upper deck sky lounge cantilevered around the funnel. With angled floor to ceiling glass windows, this converts into the ship’s disco each night.

Service on board is friendly and efficient, with good food, slanted towards Greek favourites on Mediterranean cruises. For the Cuba itineraries, most provisioning is from Canada. Expect the bacon and the maple syrup to be very good.

Cabin wise, there is a handful of upper deck midships rooms that have small, V shaped balconies. Many of the inside rooms are small- get your travel agent to check exact dimensions before you book a specific room.

At the top end of the scale, there is a pair of forward facing penthouse suites on the bow below the bridge, with expansive terraces, each including a hot tub. For a good buy, the outside de luxe cabins come in at around 170 square feet, have a big picture window, and a small, comfortable sitting area.

Just as with the inaugural season last year, I expect these cruises to be very popular.

Aft terraces on the Louis Cristal

Aft terraces on the Louis Cristal